It was a wet and wild Monday night with two wild cards and rain showers in action at the Winston-Salem Open.
Former world no. 3 Dominic Thiem faced off against American and newly minted top 100 player J.J. Wolf.
The 23-year-old from Cincinnati, OH has is coming off a deep run in Washington, D.C. where, earlier this month, he made it to the quarterfinals and rose as high as no. 83 in the ATP Pepperstone rankings.
Wolf got off to a blazing start securing an early break and went on to lead the first set by 4-1, but the 2020 U.S. Open champion rallied to level the set at 4-4 and ultimately forced a tiebreaker.
Thiem fell to 1-5 down in the breaker with a couple of costly unforced errors, but ultimately Wolf closed out the set 7-6(5).
The second set saw continued grueling rallies, precision passing shots and plenty of defensive scrambling from both players.
Both men stayed on serve until the eighth game when Thiem struck first to go up 5-3 with a chance to serve to level the match at one set a piece. Wolf, however, had other ideas. He broke right back to right the ship.
Thiem would continue to apply pressure on the Wolf serve, and at 5-6 the moment was too much when the American succumbed with a double fault on set point to give life to Thiem’s hard court comeback with a 7-5 set.
The rains came during the middle of the third set and delayed play for nearly two hours. At 11:31 pm players returned to the court and so did the tension.
With the score set at 3-2, Wolf, set to serve, gave the Austrian an immediate break for 4-2. Again, just as in the first set, the Cincinnati kid would not let him consolidate and put the match on even ground as Thiem sent a swinging volley long to push the score line to 4-3.
There was no relief for either player, and the match would receive the conclusion it deserved – a final set tie break.
Thiem lead for the first half of the breaker, pulling away 4-1, but Wolf continued to attack, winning five points on the trot to give himself two match points down 4-6.
It wasn’t enough for Wolf.
Thiem hit four winners to close at the match just after midnight.
“I felt like I was playing too defensively after the [rain delay], so at 4-6 down, I told myself, it’s now or never. I released a little bit,” said Thiem
“I had to raise my level in that tiebreaker, and everything went perfectly for me. I’m very happy to get that win tonight. It’s my first win on hard courts since March of 2021, but it was not easy out there,” he added.
His reward after a three-hour slug fest?
The top seed, Grigor Dimitrov, on Tuesday in the first match of the night session.
“It’s like that. At least it’s a night match, so I have a little bit of time to recover. I’m still at the stage where the comeback is still going. I feel like every match is a bonus, especially tomorrow. He’s one of the biggest names in the last decade, right now a top 20 player. I’m happy I worked my way through today to give myself another chance tomorrow.”
American Steve Johnson will also get another chance tomorrow. The fan-favorite came through in straight sets 6-2, 6-3 over fellow American Emilio Nava.
Monday’s win is Johnson’s sixteenth at the Winston-Salem Open, and he is the tournament leader in match victories, surpassing current world no. 14 and 2016 champion Pablo Carreño Busta.
“That makes me feel kind of old, unfortunately. I used to be here a decade ago as the young guy like Emilio. It’s all gone by pretty fast,” Johnson said in his post-match interview.
Johnson is still hungry to play, though, admitting there is one thing he’d like to do before he decides to move on to the next chapter of his life.
“I’m still looking for a hard court title. I’ve won them on all the other surfaces, so I’m trying to get one here. Why not this week?”
Pedro Martinez, the no. 12 seed, awaits Johnson in his second round match.
The rain caused revisions to Tuesday’s schedule, sending the Gasquet and Musetti round of 32 match to Court 2 at 1pm alongside doubles battles on Courts 3 and 4.
Stadium begins at 2pm when the 2021 champion and no. 11 seed Ilya Ivashka kicks off the day session facing German Peter Gojowczyk, who came through earlier in the day 6-4, 6-3 over Jiri Lehecka.
Gates will open promptly at 1pm for the day session and at 5:30pm for the evening